Talking About Z Ball

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Last week my story Z Ball was nominated to be the Leighgendarium Short Story of the week and in spite of the other amazing authors I was up against, I managed to win the popular vote. Today is the day Preston Leigh (owner and operator of The Leighgendarium blog) takes a look at it. So, head on over and chime in on the discussion –> LONG LIVE Z BALL!


Z Ball

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Z BALL — FREE One Day Only!

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Z Ball

Z Ball, originally featured in The Z Chronicles, (if you haven’t read that, do so. Excellent collection of stories) is out and available on its own for the first time and for ONE DAY ONLY (Thursday, Sept. 24), Z Ball is FREE on Kindle. Click on the oversized cover above to be taken to the Amazon page. Reviews are very much appreciated as well.

Vote for Z Ball!

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Oh boy.

Each week, my pal Preston Leigh (owner and operator of The Leighgendarium blog) features a short story as part of an ongoing series. This week, one of my stories is up for the weekly honors, but the competition is tougher than ever. I really feel like Z Ball (originally in The Z Chronicles) is one of my best tales, but I’ve got the likes of Hugh Howey’s Second Suicide (featured in The Alien Chronicles), Vincent Trigili’s The Storymaster (from The Dragon Chronicles), Ann Christy’s Unnatural (from Alt.History 101), and Susan Kaye Quinn’s Restore (from The A.I. Chronicles).

Whoa.

So…I’m not going to win. But, let’s give these master storytellers a run for their money.

Click on the graphic below to go to The Leighgendarium and vote for Z BALL:

zombie vote

(Oh, and while you’re there, hop in on the conversation about Michelle Browne’s story The Factory, this week’s story selection.)

One more thing…

LONG LIVE Z BALL.

Let The Hate Flow?

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Chuck Wendig.

(Sorry if I lost half the audience right there, but it had to be said.)

star_wars_aftermathIf you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can visit the Amazon page for Chuck Wendig’s latest book, Aftermath, and peruse through a few of the reviews. I’d recommend not staying too long, but you get the picture. The book is one of the first big Star Wars books since Disney bought out George Lucas and decided the existing Star Wars fiction (known as the “Expanded Universe”) published over the past 20 years or so would be now branded as “Star Wars Legends.” All the novels and stories written in that universe were now deemed “non-canon” — a move that upset a lot of Star Wars fans.

In fact, as of this blog, the book has 41 percent of its reviews as one-star, and has a 2.6 star average. While book criticism is one thing (I’ve certainly disliked books before), there seems to be outside reasons for a lot of the hate that has very little to do with Wendig.

I’ve read a lot of Star Wars books. My dad made a significant investment in the SW titles as soon as Timothy Zahn published his Thrawn trilogy and I was immersed for a few years. I thought the Thrawn novels were fantastic, and I know I wasn’t alone. More Han, Luke, Leia, and Chewie? New characters, for sure, but a continuation of the stories we fell in love with thanks to the original three Star Wars films. But, thanks to Disney’s decision to now relegate those books to non-canonical works (perhaps fanfiction in many people’s eyes), it soiled anything to come down the pipeline for many.

And so here comes Wendig.

Chuck Wendig has what you might call…a unique writing style. Just from the reviews, here are a few descriptions: “jarring,” “poorly written,” “irritates the reader,” “meh,” “thrilling action,” “Choppy sentences,” ” strange and off-putting,” and “unreadable.”

Ouch.

For every positive reaction, you’ll get four or five negative. His writing style is certainly different than what a lot of people may be used to, but it isn’t bad writing. At least, not in my opinion. I am working through it — not done yet — but I’m probably about a third of the way through Aftermath. While I’ve read some, I’m doing a lot of the “reading” with my ears and listening to the audiobook. Maybe he didn’t intend it this way, but from what I’ve heard, the Wendig writing style is perfect for audiobooks. The immediacy of the action and the sharp, crisp dialogue just jumps through the speakers.

But before I praise Wendig too much, let me say here: I am not a Wendigger. I saw a few commenters slamming the positive reviewers as being Wendig fanboys. I am not. Not to say I won’t be, but Aftermath is the first Wendig book I’ve read. Honest to God. I can’t be a Wendig fanboy without having a history with him. And there is none.

As for other criticisms, let’s just do a bullet list of some of the biggies:

  • Gay character. Um. So what? It isn’t like they made Han or Luke gay (although I’m sure there is some fanfic out there…). Homosexual people exist, and I’m sure in a universe with countless planets and alien species, there are any number of orientations. You don’t want boundary-pushing fiction, don’t read sci-fi.
  • None of the “Main” characters. Somewhat of a valid concern, but it isn’t like Wendig would’ve had much say here. I have NO idea how the deal went down for him to write this transition from Jedi to Awakens, but I can guarantee he wasn’t allowed to have Han or Luke or Leia appear. Frankly, he should thank his lucky stars he got Wedge Antilles. At least with Wedge he is able to tie in character-wise with the established film universe. But if fans were expecting Luke to come in with a squad of brand-new Jedi, they don’t understand geopolitical situations.
  • It’s a Small Story. True enough. BUT…what is Disney doing with Star Wars? They are doing EXACTLY WHAT THE FANS ASKED FOR. “We want more!” so they give us “Rogue One” releasing next year that is a smaller story that includes exactly NONE of the main characters we know. What do you expect from a book that connects the films? Besides, this is just part one of a proposed trilogy. How do you know how big the story actually is?

Ultimately, there are some criticisms that are fair. I totally get the writing style one, but I also think if the fans could get past some of the other aspects, the writing style is something people could become accustomed to. The Hunger Games was also criticized for its writing style when it was released, but you rarely hear complaints about it anymore.

At the end of the day, the true fans are showing themselves to be true trolls. Many of the five-star reviews have multiple comments about how the review is paid for, or a corporate shill, or not a true fan, or something else. They can’t understand how it can loved and appreciated by a whole new generation, and if they aren’t careful, they could alienate the very people who could make episodes 7, 8, and 9 the basis for their own lifelong fandom. Much of it is coming off as spiteful of DIsney and their decisions with the property, or hateful towards homosexuals, or even irrational about a fictional universe that you never had any control over in the first place.

To Mr. Wendig — congrats on the success. I’m working on the book and I’ll post a review when I’m done. If it’s a great book, I’ll say so. If it isn’t, I’ll say so there as well. I won’t base my judgement on previous iterations of the universe or on corporate decisions out of your control. Thanks for carrying the torch between the movies, even if most of the fans would like to turn it on you.

Book Review — The Future Chronicles

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12016174_10153528189235170_522376485_oOver the past year, Samuel Peralta has diligently and deliberately put together a powerhouse science fiction anthology series. He’s been able to attract big name authors such as Hugh Howey, Ken Liu, Seanan McGuire, Robert J. Sawyer, Jennifer Foehner Wells, and Matthew Mather among many others. But, what makes the Future Chronicles volumes great is the platform for new and emerging talent from the trenches of indie authors. While the established authors have been the cornerstone for these collections, the indie talent Sam chooses for each book is exciting and raw.

Full Disclosure: I’ve been privileged to be in three FC anthologies so far (Alien, Z & Immortality) and have spots reserved in at least two more scheduled to run in the next six to eight months. Other than reading and loving The Future Chronicles Special Edition anthology, I have no involvement in the collection.

So if the different anthologies released in the past year were all-star teams, then The Future Chronicles is a best of the best. Some of my favorite stories from collections like The Robot Chronicles, The Telepath Chronicles, The Alien Chronicles and The A.I. Chronicles appear, inviting you to rediscover them, to read them again for the first time in the context of this new collection, outside of the confines of their genre-specific collection. For some, it seems to imbue them with new meaning. When reading A.K. Meek’s The Invariable Man (later expanded to a longer book) with a brand new story on one end and stories about telepaths just pages later, it almost can be read with a new and different point of view.

In The Future Chronicles, we get eleven stories previously released in those first four of the Future Chronicles collections. Each of these stories is excellent and represents those anthologies wonderfully. What is an extra treat are five brand new stories from Sam Best, Susan Kaye Quinn, Deirdre Gould, Angela Cavanaugh, and Moira Katson, as well as a Foreword penned by Hugh Howey. Each is a breath of fresh air. With the general theme, you don’t quite know what to expect…will these stories be about robots, telepathy, aliens, or something else entirely. I’m thrilled to say each of these could very well serve as a foundational block for an anthology of their own.

While I don’t want to ruin any discovery a reader will make on their own, Sam Best really rocks the beginning of the entire collection, Quinn again provides her own brand of singularity fiction with her story, Gould presents a mind-bending tale that will leave you shaking your head, Cavanaugh could give you nightmares (or are they…) for her story The Assistant and Katson threatens to leave you with tears after reading her heartbreaking story of defiance in the face of death.

What’s really amazing is how each of these stories works not only in the confines of their own specific genre, but also all alone and then back in the comfort of other Future Chronicles stories that may or may not be in the same vein. Peralta has crafted a juggernaut and readers are reaping the benefits. If you get the chance, read The Future Chronicles and then explore the other titles available in the Kindle Store.

What a Wild Week

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darkI innocently (Okay, maybe not so innocently) wrote a blog post on Sunday fisking a two-star review for the sci-fi anthology Dark Beyond The Stars. Thew review was unfair, specifically targeting the writers of the anthology just because their organs differ from his. So…I struck back. I tried not to be mean-spirited, but things needed to be said. Things I could not ignore with a pre-teen daughter growing up in my household.

And wow…I guess this is “viral” — at least for me. In the past couple days, I’ve had WAY above average views on this blog. The authors of the anthology got behind it and it was viewed organically that way, but then yesterday I started getting massive hits from two places.

One — The Mary Sue.

logo-typeI don’t think I ever considered that I would be quoted on a Feminist website. Frankly, I just never really thought about it, but why not? (Technically a Feminist Geek Culture site). Regardless, it was a kick, reading my own words in an article condemning the DBTS review. The link back to my own blog got me some traffic, but not as much as…

Two — Reddit.

reddit-logoOh my. If you aren’t familiar with Reddit, I have two pieces of advice: wade in carefully and/or run away. Reddit can be a great place (I’ve seen the community gather together to make sure an autistic kid had a phenomenal birthday party) and as Obi-Wan Kenobi once put it about another place, “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” Anyway, someone linked my review on the FemmeThoughts subreddit and suddenly I started getting dozens of hits. I wandered over and found a few people discussing my attempts to eradicate “sexism with more sexism.” Well, that was NOT what I intended, so I commented in an attempt to clear things up. Suffice it to say, in a world of ambiguity, there are people on both sides of the aisle who want to deal only in absolutes.

But two other things were bigger to me than blog hits.

  • Four of the authors in DBTS reached out to me personally last night to thank me. Like I told all of them, I was sticking up for friends, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
  • But also…John Freakin’ Scalzi. The author of Old Man’s War and Redshirts among others (both would qualify as Space Opera, I believe), chimed in as a commenter under the now infamous review. (which, by the way, had about 9 comments a few days ago, then all were mysteriously deleted. Oops…now there is 68 as of this morning.) But…back to Scalzi, that means…probably…that whether he read my blog, or the Mary Sue piece, JOHN SCALZI READ MY WORDS. *faints*

scalzi

OK…gonna go recover now. If you haven’t read Dark Beyond the Stars yet…what are you waiting for????

Applauding the Ladies — An Exercise in Fisking

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A blog I often enjoy reading is that of J.A. Konrath. Once there, one of my favorite activities of his is when he fisks a letter, blog post, review, whatever. The Internet is a fantastic place. In fact, just the other day, I posted my blog post about my grandmother. That night, I got a message from my uncle’s cousin. Turns out he was the best man at the wedding about 50 years ago of the man who lives in my town who used to be the funeral director. About 10 years ago, I worked with that man’s daughter. I put them in touch, shrinking an already contracting world.

That’s one of the things I love about the Internet.

One of the things I don’t like is the ways we can hurt each other.

darkA few weeks ago, I published my review of Dark Beyond The Starsand then a few days after that, an interview with anthology curator Patrice Fitzgerald. I was enthralled with the anthology, but when I saw the book’s line-up, I was afraid that the trolls of the Internet would somehow find their way out from under the various bridges and sewer grates to attack the collection. You see, DBTS has an entirely female author line-up. The lone man to be involved was editor David Gatewood. When I mentioned the composition of the anthology to Fitzgerald, she really didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. They were all authors — sci-fi authors no less — who all just happened to be women. Good enough. They didn’t seek out that line-up, but it happened somewhat organically.

I love it. As my daughter grows and matures, I would love for her to be able to emulate one of these fine women with their grace and style in the publishing world that sometimes holds their gender against them.

Case in point, one of the latest reviews of the anthology. A previous look at this review by Brian K. Lowe discussed the review, but didn’t name the reviewer or link it. No matter, the review is easy enough to find, but the writer of the review deserves to be named. He did purposefully leave his name there, complete with the name of one of his latest books as well.

But let’s look at that review, line by line, with my reaction in bold.


I’m sorry to offend fifty percent of the population but it has to be said that when it comes to writing Science Fiction, it still remains a purely male domain.

First off, if you are truly sorry about not wanting to offend the female portion of the earth’s population, maybe you shouldn’t have left a review in the first place. But, you did, so let’s take a look at the rest of his statement. “When it comes to writing Science Fiction, it still remains a purely male domain.” 

Now this being an Amazon review, I can’t necessarily expect him to quote statistics or anything, but this is actually true. Changing, but true. Well…we don’t have up-to-date stats, but according to a 2013 blog posting by an editor with Tor Books, the percentage of women submitting to the publisher was just 32 percent for genre fiction (22 percent for just sci-fi). So yes, the numbers are lower. BUT…they are improving. The percentage of female writers in the 1940’s was pegged between 10-15 percent. 

That doesn’t even take into account indie publishing. And as we know, the two years since 2013 has been a lifetime in the course of publishing, indie or traditional. So while we can’t say that women are publishing more, we certainly CANNOT say it remains a purely male domain. I myself was a big fan of Anne McCaffrey and Andre Norton as a child and women were very influential then, just as they are now. 

I bought the above book the other day, hoping to be proved wrong. It is a collection of stories under the banner of science fiction by an all female group of writers. They are: Patrice Fitzgerald, Blair C. Babylon, Annie Bellet, Elle Casey, Ann Christy, Autumn Kalquist, Theresa Kay, Susan Kaye Quinn, Sara Reine, Rysa Walker and Jennifer Foehner Wells.

So he was looking to be wrong about women in science fiction. I doubt that. In fact, with the context of the review, it reads more like someone looking for things to pick out to prove their case. As for the rest of that paragraph, good job. You correctly identified all the writers. 

While the stories are expertly edited by David Gatewood, without exception, sadly each one has that special something missing to make them true scifi, let alone memorable. Not one of the eleven writer’s offerings got my undivided attention.

Each was missing that special something. Let me tell you what women bring to the table that men struggle with: EMOTION. I think I am pretty in touch with my emotions, but I will probably never be able to write some of the scenes found in Jen Well’s story in DBTS. Women tend to bring out a tone of compassion and empathy, an aspect that MEN sadly usually cannot nail. While not all are mothers, there is a connection to motherhood in many of the stories and many of the tales women bring to science fiction. 

If you want to talk about what men to in science fiction, we can talk about the typical “space opera” with lasers in space and faster than light speed and whatnot, but sadly we often get hollow characterizations. Women know characters because they usually understand emotions better than we do. 

As for “not one of the eleven writer’s offerings got my undivided attention,” I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe turn off the soccer match or put down Angry Birds? 

For the publisher to make the claim that the anthology is space opera is laughable! Obviously neither Gatewood or anyone else connected with this collection of stories has a clue about what constitutes a space opera. Think Starship Troopers, District Nine, Farscape, Star Gate, even Star Wars and Star Trek. To borrow a quote – “I associate the idea of space opera with appallingly bad writing,” which is the perfect description of this book’s content.

OK. I googled the definition of “space opera” and got: a novel, movie, or television program set in outer space, typically of a simplistic and melodramatic nature. 

Based purely on THAT definition, you can rule out one of your examples. While District Nine is a fine science fiction story, it is in NO WAY a space opera. Set on Earth. Unless you consider South Africa to be a separate planet. Maybe you do. 

As for some of the others, Stargate (that’s the correct writing of that) isn’t your typical Space Opera either, with the teams established on Earth, and not getting space ships until the latter half of the series. As for your quote: if you knew that going in, why did you even bother? 

For any scifi story to be considered to be a space opera, it should always be a mixture of fast paced action combined with a large measure of the shoot-em-up mentality.

Again, I’ll refer you back to the definition. Your definition doesn’t even include some of YOUR OWN examples. Most of Star Trek is introspective, imaginative, and social boundary pushing. My favorite episodes (as is many people’s) are the ones were NOTHING REALLY HAPPENS. Picard plays a flute. Data has dreams. Odo discovers who he truly is. All great shows, but nothing “space opera” about them according to your definition. So, we go back to the original definition, where we are allowed stories merely set in space. All in this collection fit that example, many with stories that would fit very well in most any series Gene Roddenberry produced. 

I applaud the ladies for giving it a try, but I would suggest they forget going any further. Leave the genre to those of us who know how to write scifi, being well versed in it’s many nuances…

YOU APPLAUD THEM? 

Ugh. 

I applauded my kitten when she used the litter box for the first time. Women don’t need your applause, nor do they want it. There are plenty of people out there who appreciate good stories with well-developed characters. With this final statement, it’s convinced me that you, sir, are jealous. I saw this collection hover just outside the Amazon Top 100 for a few days, and I’m sure you did, too. You have written a couple of science fiction books that have gone nowhere. When a book written by women comes along and anihilates your “works of art” in days in terms of sales and reviews, you can’t stand it. You read, thinking you have an open mind, but your mind is the furthest thing from it. 

And you can’t even take criticism, either. Last I checked yesterday, there was nine responses to your review on Amazon (none by me, by the way). Today there are NONE. I imagine you sent Amazon a sob story how these people are ruining your reputation and soiling the Internet for you. 

Get real. Your review just shows that you are a caveman who looks at the stars and wonders how far you can go when the women in the cave next door have already developed the wheel and fire. 

Jack Eason, author of The Guardian

And there you go. There’s his name and his book. Look it up and you’ll find it has some decent reviews, but a ranking above 900,000, meaning no one has purchased it in months. This man wants recognition, and I suppose you could argue he got it here. But it isn’t good recognition. 

People like you are who I will warn my daughter about. When I send her out into the world, she will be told that people will doubt her. She will be told there are some that believe she cannot achieve things simply because of the chromosomes in her cells. She will be told this, and I will tell her to ignore them. Women can write science fiction. They can write it well, and if you don’t believe me, go pick up your own copy of Dark Beyond The Stars. If short stories aren’t your thing, pick up one of their full length novels. These women can write — and write better than me. 

Keep it up. Show the girls out there that men like this have no say in their lives. 

Will Swardstrom, Husband, Father, Author